A Month in Havana-Part III

Searching for food

When we arrived, on a Saturday afternoon, we did not find even a small bottle of water in any of the two fridges. Even though, in most places, tap water is drinkable, it is advisable to consume only bottled water. I didn’t want to take any chances, especially because in the summer months there are occasional outbreaks of cholera. Shortly after getting familiar with what will be our home for the next thirty days, we went in search of water and food. The store inside Tarará is eight blocks away, but they had no water (plenty of imported beer, though), so we walked another four to five blocks to a store just outside the Tarará gate (Tarará is a gated community, although I don’t see why as anyone can enter it from the beach) and there we bought a few bottles of water and some food to get us through the first couple of days. The problem is, there is no place to buy fresh fruit and vegetables and I’m told I will have to go either to Guanabo which is about eight kilometers to the east, or to Alamar which is about half way to Havana. I decided to go to Guanabo on Monday morning and we spent most of the day Sunday on the beach. The water was just perfect and the section of the beach closest to our house was not too crowded even though, in summer, lots of Habaneros head to the beaches on weekends. Later in the afternoon we decided to take a walk on the beach, towards Santa Maria. The beach was so packed that we couldn’t even walk close to the water where the sand is hard and easier to walk on, instead we had to jump over hundreds of beer cans scattered on the sand. And it’s not that they don’t have where to dispose of them, no, no, there are plenty of garbage bins on the beach. I am furious and this is one of the moments when I have to remind myself how much I love Cuba. It is difficult for me to understand why they litter their white-powder-sand beaches and the clearest waters of the ocean. Is it because they think all beaches are created equal (think again), or because they simply don’t care? To be fair, not all Cubans are litterbugs, my Cuban friends are equally appalled by this type of behavior. Thankfully, soon after everyone starts heading back into the city, the cans quickly disappear in the hands of self-employed recyclers. These people are very poor and I can only imagine how little they get for the returned cans. You will often see them sitting on a curb flattening the cans with a rock so they can pack as many as possible in their large canvas bags.
On Monday morning I left early, to beat the heat, but I forgot to bring a bottle of water with me, a necessity in summer months. It gets very hot as early as nine in the morning. I walked to Via Blanca-the main road passing by the North end of Tarará and inquired about buses going to Guanabo. I was told to take the 400-cuatrocientos, but I also found out that the market is closed on Mondays. I decided to go anyway, and after not even attempting to get on two full buses, I wriggled myself into the third one and deposited one peso cubano (about $ 0.04 or 4 cents) in the plastic box beside the driver’s seat. It was a short but sweaty ride, even though all the windows were open. I got off at what looked like the center of town and went on a food quest at several stores, a bakery and street carts with fruits and vegetables. A slightly better ride back, and I barely made it home under the weight of two bags of chicken drumsticks, a large piece of cheese, three small loaves of bread, two boxes of sweets, ten eggs, three big mangoes, two pounds of tomatoes, two pounds of onions, a bunch of bananas and a one kilo bag of coffee that an employee at a store produced from under the counter. Bring it on, we ain’t gonna be hungry, and I did it all a lo cubano! The thing is, I truly believe that if you want to get to the soul of any country you are visiting, you have to at least try and do some things like locals do. Not everything and not all the time, after all, this is supposed to be a vacation. I can now appreciate all the commodities I have at home-being able to drive to a nearby well stocked and air conditioned supermarket and getting everything I need in one place. Still, I don’t regret lugging all that food even though my arms hurt for two days afterwards, especially because the tomatoes, although small and kind of ugly, taste so good, and don’t even get me started on mangoes. Right now, I am in mango heaven! They are big, they are ripe when you buy them and they are the best I ever tasted.Part3-1

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